Tasmania, part one

We landed at Hobart after a comfortable 1 hour flight with Virgin Australia. (There was a group of young sportsmen at our gate in Melbourne and I asked David who they were. A quick Google search revealed that they were the Tasmanian Tigers — a cricket team who were returning from a match in Perth where they scored 63 all out. Now, even I know that’s not a good thing! They did seem to be hiding in the corner and no-one was troubling them for an autograph.) David’s cousin Diane & her husband, Leigh were there to greet us. Big hugs all round! We collected the luggage and drove over the impressive Tasman Bridge, through Hobart and to their home. It felt lovely to have finally arrived after all the months of planning to meet up with them again. We had a supper time drink along with a selection of biscuits and cake — Tim Tams, Lamingtons and Anzac biscuits.

Tuesday morning was taken up with washing and hanging out said washing before we set of to Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary just a short drive from Diane’s house. It’s a wonderful place and the staff there do some great work not only looking after the animals but nursing them back to health and releasing them if appropriate. We saw Tasmanian Devils, Kangaroos (some with joeys), Tawny Frogmouth Owls, Galahs, Koalas, Judy the Wombat and Randall, the 3-legged Echidna who was too adorable for words. We had a pleasant stroll around, feeding the kangaroos with the food we’d been given, then stopped for lunch before our appointment with Judy the wombat. We were taken to a small enclosure and the keeper brought her over while I carried her enrichment treat — a pumpkin full of grass. Well, it was Hallowe’en! She wandered around us, taking food from our hands and letting us stroke her back. Wombats have a thick plate of cartilage which is their main defence. Wombats dig complex tunnels and, as they carry their young in pouches, the pouch opening is rear-facing so that the young don’t get covered in earth. A guided tour had just started as we said goodbye to Judy, so we tagged along so that we could stroke a koala and see the Tasmanian Devil being fed. Tasmanian Devils get a bad press. They aren’t the scary creatures you might imagine them to be but shy, nervous scavengers who regularly dine on roadkill. They eat everything, even bone. Unfortunately, as their dinner is in the road, they too are vulnerable to becoming… roadkill. As a species, they are also suffering from a contagious facial tumour and steps are being taken to isolate healthy groups in order to help them to survive. A great day. I bought myself a wombat badge and a cuddly echidna to remind me of Judy and Randall.


In the evening we went to a lovely Italian restaurant where I was introduced to sparkling Shiraz. I don’t drink red wine but this was a revelation and quite delicious. Instead of driving straight home, Leigh took us to a viewpoint so that we could see Hobart lit up against the dark starry sky — wow!

Wednesday — we weren’t sure until we set off whether or not we’d be able to see anything from kunanyi/Mt Wellington, but, as we drove away from the house we could see just a bit of cloud over the summit. It was quite a drive up Mt Wellington, through the bush and all the eucalypts but my word, was it worth it. There’s a viewing point that has windows with landmarks to show you the names of the places you can see. Leigh pointed out to the sea and said, “Next stop Antarctica.” Sobering thought.

We drove back down (why is it the return journey never takes as long as the journey to anywhere?) and went straight to MONA (Museum of Modern and Old Art) and had a delicious lunch before going down in the lift to the galleries. The visiting exhibition at the moment is ‘Everything’. We wore O devices — a bit like a smartphone that gave us information and some audio about what we could see. There was so very much to see! We exited ‘Everything’ for a visit to the library area and a welcome comfort break but while I was in the loo the alarm started to sound. Staff were very reassuring and guided the 4 of us and another woman outside where we stood and chatted for a while before exploring the chapel with its interesting stained glass windows made from x-ray films. Bizarre. After quite a while outside the all-clear was given and we were back inside. Unfortunately, MONA closes at 5pm so we had a bit of a rush to get through the rest of the exhibits in time. We just about made it and I got to see Sidney Nolan’s amazing artwork, ‘Snake’. It is enormous and made up of lots and lots of images. For the best view of it as a whole you have to go upstairs to the gallery.

Books just waiting to be written!

After a quick dash home we were out again for a meal at the Drunken Admiral down by the wharf. Another yummy meal where Diane and I shared 2 entrées instead of having mains which was a stroke of genius on Diane’s part.

On Thursday we set off for 4 nights touring the east coast after a quick detour to see the Tasman Bridge up close. When it was quite new an off-course ship ran into it one night. The ship sank and some cars were lost over the bridge. Several people lost their lives and it took a long time to repair the bridge.

We passed through stunning countryside on the way to Richmond, a little town that reminded me of the towns of New England we last visited in 1997.

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Manchester to Melbourne via Bali

Well, we’ve started our big trip!

Manchester to Singapore was a lovely flight. I watched 3 films: The Big Sick, based on the true story of a stand-up comic and his relationship with his girlfriend and also his family; Despicable Me 3 — light-hearted Minion-enhanced silliness and Lady Macbeth, which was good but rather dark.

The landing at Singapore was…interesting! Thunder, lightning and heavy rain as we approached the airport. The wheels went down, so did the plane, then we were up in the bumpy sky again. The pilot was good though, and told us the runway was just too wet to land safely. We were going to ‘hang around’ for a bit and hope that it cleared. Well, after about 10 minutes another plane landed safely so our pilot said we’d try again. This time we made it, thank goodness. I’ve since been told that planes only get 2 attempts at a landing before they have to divert.

I have never slept on planes and this long flight was no exception. So, when we boarded our next flight (Singapore to Bali) we were both doing our zombie impersonations. Once on board David’s seat was stickered for a veggie meal — and so was mine, even though I hadn’t requested one. Still, it was fine & I ate it.

We landed (without incident, this time) and were met by Buffalo Tours. The tour guide explained a bit about our hotel and the island and we decided to book a half day tour with them. First impressions of the hotel were very good….reception is an open-sided building and everything else is spread over the complex. The gardens are fab and there are Hindu and Buddhist statues all over the place with little baskets of offerings everywhere. We were taken to our room — a large downstairs room with lots of wardrobe and storage space. It even had an outdoor sofa on the terrace — and it was conveniently placed for the tennis court (yes, I am joking — we would never play tennis in the heat. Correction — we would never play tennis, end of).

We lazed for 2 days but on the following day we went for a 6 hour trip to see a traditional Barong dance performance which was excellent. We were told that it was a way of educating young people about good and evil…but that without evil there is no good. Discuss!

The Barong Dance

The guide and driver took us to see a family of silversmiths in the village where everyone is a silversmith. I may have bought things. I may have got a very good deal, according to our guide.

We visited the village where everyone is a woodcarver and David may have bought something!

Up in the north of Bali there’s a coffee plantation where they also grow vanilla, ginger, turmeric and ginseng. Their speciality, though, is Lumak coffee which undergoes a very interesting process. It is swallowed by the local wild Lumaks (otherwise known to us as civets) and every morning their poo is harvested, cleaned and the inner shell of the coffee bean is removed before the coffee is washed, roasted and ground. We went to the smaller coffee farm on the outskirts of Ubud and tried 14 different coffees and teas as well as the Lumak coffee. We both drink decaf but that doesn’t appear to exist in Bali. The coffee guide told us that Lumak coffee contains far less caffeine than ordinary coffee. It tasted very good too.

Our tour took us past beautiful countryside with heavily-wooded hillsides and deep valleys and we saw lots of rice fields with crops at different stages of development. Our final stop was to a temple where we had to wear sarongs — David looked particularly fetching in his cerise number!

Back at the hotel, we decided to return to Segara, a restaurant run by the Sanur community. They use the profits to support local schools and environmental concerns but were fundraising for those who’d had to leave their homes because of the threatened eruption of Mount Agung, one of Bali’s volcanoes. The Sanur community have collected bedding from hotels for those who are staying locally. There was a singer and keyboard player performing when we arrived and a young girl had asked if she could sing Adele’s ‘Hello’. When it came to it though, she chickened out and the singer started the song but must have noticed me singing along while I looked at the menu. Next thing I knew, the microphone was shoved in my face and I was singing. Fortunately there is no photographic or video evidence of my frankly stunning performance!

Next stop was Melbourne for a couple of nights. What a great city! We stayed on Flagstaff Gardens which was handy for the free city centre tram which we took as far as Swanston Street for our first Australian flat white. We walked up to Chinatown to eat but it was not the best meal I’ve ever had…Jet lag had taken its toll and I was asleep by 9pm. The next morning, Sunday, we walked a block to Queen Victoria Market for brunch and browsing. I do love a good fruit and veg stall! The fresh produce and the delis were amazing. In the afternoon we went to the docklands, again on the free bus, because David reckoned it would be like Salford Quays. It wasn’t — not yet, anyway. But there was a 2nd hand bookstall where I picked up CP Cavafy’s selected poems for a song.

Artwork at docklands, Melbourne

We ate at a veggie Indian restaurant but again, it wasn’t a very good experience. Oh dear! I know there are lots of excellent places to eat in Melbourne but, as David’s vegetarian and doesn’t like a huge range of foods, we didn’t make it to any of the good places. On our final day we decided to head for Fed Square after brunch in a mall. We loved the exhibition of aboriginal art and craft and the video footage of elders. We just finished watching Uncle Larry retelling the story of how the koala came to be when in walked…Uncle Larry himself!

Federation (Fed) Square, Melbourne

All too soon it was time to leave Melbourne for Hobart…but I’ll leave that for the next instalment.

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CCP and more besides

Rachel and I have invented a Thing — cider, cake and Paperchase days. Since our trip to St Ives last February to attend a brilliant poetry course run by Kim Moore and David Tait, we’ve been promising ourselves such a day. Last Friday was our first — first of many, I hope!

We set off in Costa with coffee & our first cakes. As we both do Slimming World, this already felt Very Naughty, but I was in holiday mode and Rachel had messaged me on the way in to Manchester saying, “I need my first cake,” so it was a no-brainier. After Costa had warmed us up (the day was not a crisp autumn one but a misty, cold and wet one) we headed for Paperchase. We began right at the top, touching every paper and talking about making hardback books. We were both teachers back in the days when book art was a thing we did in the classroom, along with interactive displays and when creative arts had a more prominent place in the primary classroom. I’m so glad I knew those days. I’m glad too, that I always managed to find a way to teach creatively right up until I retired even though it had become much more of a challenge to do so by then.

We inspected everything in Paperchase — all 3 floors of it — but came away with just one notebook each which was very restrained, I thought. We walked along Deansgate and into Slug & Lettuce for our first ciders. It wasn’t Rattler, our favourite Cornish cyder, but it hit the spot. We couldn’t linger though, because were were on a tight schedule! I’d bought a Groupon voucher for afternoon tea at Patisserie Valerie so off we went. After a false start (wrong sandwiches and wrong sort of tea) we soon had our yummy selection of non-Slimming World-approved goodies to feast on and, reader, we made a very good job of it — only 2 tiny sandwiches left on the cake stand. We just had time for another pint in a different Slug & Lettuce, this time in Albert Square, while we waited for our menfolk to join us. We had tickets for a Manchester Literature Festival event — Michael Symmons Roberts reading from his newly-published (and TS Eliot shortlisted!) Mancunia. What a great reading, despite a fractious baby and her mother who waited rather too long to take her out of the reading. Cesare Taurasi, one of the actors who performed in Michael’s Men who Sleep in Cars for BBC 4 recently, read the fantastic A Mancunian Diorama which would make a splendid quiz. Why not buy Mancunia, turn to page 16 & see if you can spot all the references? You can still catch the BBC TV drama on iPlayer.

There was also a piece of film archive footage to accompany Michel’s reading of Terra Nullius, with its, ‘victory parade moving through the city’ at the start of each stanza. Made me think of all the Manchester parades there have been — Peterloo, women’s suffrage marches, Whitsuntide parades, FA cup final parades etc. and how nowadays it seems to be all about austerity, Women against Trump and in a show of solidarity after the Manchester Arena bombing of May this year. Mancunia is dedicated to the memory of the victims and to those who helped and supported on May 22nd 2017.

Michael ended his reading with my favourite poem of his, The Vows, which (I hope) you can read here:


So, a splendid CCP (& poetry) day which ended with an impromptu visit to a chippy that was about to close so we were given free mushy peas and scallops. Scallops are one of my favourite things to eat. Thick slices of potato dipped into batter and deep fried. What’s not to like about that? I rarely eat them but when I do they take me back to my childhood when mum used to make them for us. We called them ‘specials’ and they were indeed special.

I’ll end this post here and, in the next thrilling episode, I’ll start to bore you with my holiday. 😉

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Three sleeps to go.

We’ve had the e-tickets and now the real, printed set has arrived, beautifully presented in a little booklet. We’ve emailed to confirm our taxi to take us to the Bali hotel and had a reply. I’ve picked up one of our big cases and found it wanting for being too heavy. Fortunately, my sister, Cath, has lent us hers. Isn’t it brilliant that suitcases these days weigh next to nothing? I have finished all my sewing and put my machine away; I’ve picked up a huge shipping order of tablets and eye drops from the pharmacy and I’ve given instructions for the watering of all plants — will I still have 7 orchids when I come home? I’ve also printed off many various luggage labels which I’ve stacked in order in the 4 luggage tags so that when we arrive anywhere we just need to remove the top one & then we’re good to go.

And yesterday we  addressed the small matter of packing 4 cases with the stuff that was all over the bedroom, in wardrobes and in the spare room. It was quite a long day. In the evening I drove to choir in Littleborough (a full hour’s drive) and spent the first half hour yawning every time we stopped singing.

Today saw me back at uni. I really miss going to Manchester Metropolitan Uni so it was great to be invited to take part in a filmed poetry workshop led by Helen Mort. There were five of us reading and giving feedback on our poems. It was great but I’m glad I didn’t know beforehand that it will be part of a Futurelearn course which will reach a potential worldwide audience. I only heard about Futurelearn for the first time last week but since then I’ve heard it mentioned three times. I’ve had a quick look online — https://www.futurelearn.com (learning how to do hyperlinks is on my to do list) — and there are lots of interesting courses. I don’t know whether to start with Jazz Piano or Dental Photography! Seriously though, it’s well worth a look if you fancy a spot of learning.

Tomorrow I’m off to Manchester again, this time with my good friend Rachel Davies. We have plans. We have been looking forward to this day for months. Wait and see what we get up to!

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Counting down to a holiday

All of a sudden it’s 9 days till we’re off on a rather special holiday….

After three years of studying for my MA in Creative Writing (Poetry) at Manchester Metropolitan University I finally handed in my portfolio a few weeks ago. It’s a book-length collection of poems — 69 in all — and I hope to get it (or a pamphlet) published at some point. Publishing poetry books and pamphlets can be tricky and I’m not the world’s most efficient submitter to magazines etc. I will try harder. Probably. When I’m back from this holiday.

My husband, David, has cousins in Tasmania. We’ve met one of them, Diane, and her husband, Leigh, a couple of times when they’ve visited the UK and got on really well. I’m Facebook friends with them and Diane & I share a love of cocktails. Back in the spring, I was challenged by another Facebook friend to post an image of a Stanley Nolan painting to ‘fill Facebook with art’. I’d never heard of Nolan but I searched Google and found an image I liked and posted it. Almost immediately, Diane commented that his ‘Snake’ was in MONA a mere one and a half kilometres from their house to which I replied, ‘I’m coming!’ From this random germ of an idea sprang the holiday. David, not much given to impulsive acts, said, ‘Why don’t we?’

We’d been recommended to go and talk to Trailfinders but when we went, all excited about our trip, the gentleman we spoke to was clearly not having a good day. He leant back in his chair and said ‘Depends where you want to go,’ when we asked what our stopping off options were. Deflated, we left and had some lunch. On our way back to the tram I spotted the Flight Centre and we went in. What a difference! I was careful to say exactly the same to Lilly as I had in Trailfinders and her response was, ‘How exciting! I’ve never done a holiday to Tasmania — let’s see what the options are.’ She went through the various airlines and where they each stopped off. We settled on Singapore Airlines because that would give us the option to transfer from Singapore to a choice of resorts for the princely sum of £50 each return. We do like a bargain! So, on Sunday 22nd October we will be travelling to Bali via Singapore. That’s the plan. For the past few weeks, however, Mount Agung, one of Bali’s volcanos, has been threatening to erupt. Around 140,000 people have been evacuated from the immediate area although half have now returned to their homes. Tourist areas remain unaffected but there has been a decline in numbers visiting Bali since the tremors first started. There is no Foreign Office advice to avoid Bali so we are sticking with our plans. Watch this space.

After Bali we fly (via Singapore) to Melbourne then on to Tasmania for a week. After that we move on to Sydney, then Singapore and finally to Phuket in Thailand before coming home on 17th November. I hope to use this blog to post updates and photos but, as I’m a blogging novice, you’ll have to bear with me as I find my way. In the meantime, I’m busy sewing holiday clothes, packing all my various medications and loading my Kindle with holiday reading matter. Last night I had my first ‘wide awake at 4:30 a.m. thinking about the holiday’ night…hope there aren’t many more of them because I hate to lose out on my sleep!

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